Angela Okune: In this collective letter, they point to the fact that journals published by university presses, especially those in the humanities have a modest margin, if that, and often simply strive to break even. The authors agree with the proponents of Plan S that the profit margins of commercial publisher like Elsevier (that can reach c.40%) are exploitative and excessive but point out that these profits are largely drawn from journals in STEMM subjects with subscription prices many times those of African Studies journals for example. Here I read the authors as also arguing that society and university presses are not the same as the mega-corporate presses and thus distinctions must be made within the universal policies that all are expected to follow.
"Institutes and learned societies, which in African Studies include the International African Institute, the British Academy sponsored British Institute in Eastern Africa, the Royal African Society, the U.S. African Studies Association, all signatories to this letter along with smaller societies in the discipline, do not publish to make a profit on their own behalf. Surpluses from journals published by societies with university presses tend to be modest. The aim for the best performing journals is to break-even or to earn a modest surplus of 5-10% from publication income to fund wider programmes. We agree with the proponents of Plan S that the profit margins of the commercial publishers (that can reach c.40%) are exploitative and excessive. But these profits are largely drawn from journals in STEMM subjects with subscription prices many times those of journals in HSS. The annual institutional subscription for the Journal of African History is currently £331 (print and online, 3 issues). The annual subscription for Journal of Southern African Studies is £844 (print and online, 6 issues). Shifting such journals to a pay-to-publish model is not the answer to limit the profits of commercial publishing and would effectively make HSS journals more expensive for research universities that would have to contribute APCs, currently c.£1,800 per article in African Studies. Such a shift would be uneconomic for institutions at the individual journal level and will in all likelihood enhance the profits of commercial publishers via APCs." (pages 3 - 4)